running in the summer

We just spent more than a week camping in gorgeous Indian Lake State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s in a tiny town called Manistique on the southern part of the UP and features all of our favorite things about camping: lake views, glorious sunsets, nearby attractions, trails and, in this case, great Internet/phone connections.

Our site, E-2, is not reserve-able online; you can only walk in and request it. It’s rather large, with some big trees for good shade, next to the bathroom (more on that later) and across from a couple of waterfront sites.

While not the best site we’ve ever camped on, it certainly met all of our basic needs and was a great spot overall. The two sites across from us saw a lot of turnover, so we had new neighbors almost every day or two. As for being next to the bathroom, it really wasn’t as bad as we expected and didn’t detract from our stay.

There are several public access areas (most have steps) that served as perfect spots to view each evening’s sunset.

Pro tip: The walk/drive/bike to the first set of bathrooms is totally worth it. The water was hot and adjustable, unlike the single shower in the other two sets of bathrooms.

As for running, I got a few short (3-5 mile) runs in, plus a 20 miler and a 16 miler.

For my longest run, I wanted to stay close so I could access our motorhome’s bathroom, plus cold water and Gatorade, and snacks. I knew it would take me five to six hours, so I didn’t want to be weighed down by tons of supplies.

After chatting with the friendly park ranger, I settled on running the campground’s trails, which were supposed to give me about a mile, plus a full circuit on the campground’s loop for another mile. Doing that would obviously force me to run 10 2-mile loops. Not ideal, but do-able, and convenient.

I tried to find another, nearby option, but everything I found was at least a 30- to 45-minute drive or farther.

I headed out at 6 a.m. for my first loop, heading to the trail head, my hydration vest and trail shoes on. I had sprayed myself with bug spray, grabbing a couple of the Deep Woods Off wipes, just in case.

The trail starts with about .2 miles paved, then turns into a typical mix of dirt and sand, with some pretty lake views, lots of shade and no people.

I was particularly pleased to see the tree coverage, knowing the temperatures would rise quickly and soon.

Until, that is, the state bird, I mean, mosquitoes started feasting on me. I figured that if I kept moving, I would be OK, so I ran more than walked.

Until, that is, the trail speed bumps, I mean, the logs on the trail. And by logs, I mean lots of rather large tree branches that someone probably thought would help with erosion or mud. But instead, they tripped me over and over. And over.

Did I mention that the mosquitoes would swarm me when I slowed down?

Feeling like a mosquito buffet, I walked as fast as I could, trying to also avoid a digger face-first into the dirt.

When I had a moment, I re-applied the mosquito repellent, but it just served as a seasoning, because the suckers (see what I did there?) just kept biting.

I was glad to leave the trail, but dreaded just running loops on asphalt around the campground, so I went back through the trails a couple more times with similar results. I have to say that I just gave up; the whole ordeal was just unpleasant and even slower than normal, even for this back-of-the-packer.

Instead, I ran the 1-mile campground loop 14 more times after changing into my road shoes. And again a few days later for 16 miles. Weee!

Not a favorite, but it certainly beat running loops in my neighborhood.

Pro tip: be prepared to run 1-mile loops, or plan ahead and find a nice trail you can drive to…and bring bear spray.

Other than running, I went fishing with el husbando at nearby Dodge Lake, about a 20-minute drive northeast of Indian Lake. Together, we caught about 10 smaller bass. Most other days were too windy for us to fish, even with our new Minn Kota motor.

The Indian Lake campground is also close to a cool attraction called the Big Spring. We had been here about five or six years ago, and were happy to visit again. Basically, you get on a raft that allows you to see a beautiful natural spring with greenish-turquoise water and the biggest trout I have ever seen. We took some home video, but I think you’ll rather enjoy this Under the Radar piece instead.

Pro tip: This spot is extremely popular and there’s only one raft, so you may have to wait. The park ranger suggested we go early in the morning or at 6 p.m. We opted for 9 a.m. and didn’t have to wait long, but a bunch of people showed up as we were leaving.

We also did a ton of eating while on vacation, as one does, including a ride into town to experience Clyde’s Drive In, which several friends and TripAdvisor recommended. It’s apparently a sister restaurant to the original on U.S. 2, just west of the Mackinac Bridge once you cross over.

We all enjoyed the burgers and fries. I’m not typically a coleslaw lover, but theirs tasted fresh and was delicious. The shakes were just OK. The portions were rather generous and I was just glad that I didn’t have to cook.

Ironically, we were originally booked to camp at Lake Gogebic State Park, in the very western UP, but made a last-minute decision to swing by Indian Lake in the off-chance they had an open site. I called ahead when we were just 7 miles away, and were thrilled to learn that they had three open sites.

I should note that the park ranger, Pat Nelson, was awesome. He was friendly every single time we saw him, offered great suggestions and tips.

As I mentioned before, we parked here a few years ago and had fond memories, but had been choosing to camp at our favorite sites at Muskallonge Lake State Park. We’re glad we switched it up a bit, and are grateful for such an awesome vacation.

What’s your favorite Upper Peninsula state park for camping? What about for running? (You may have to click on the “Continue Reading” button to leave a comment.)

It had been a while, but I had promised myself I would return to the North Eastern State Trail at Aloha State Park near Cheboygan and I’m really glad I did.

Map of the North Eastern State Trail where I ran

The North Eastern State Trail was great for running.

After checking the trail map, I chose to head toward Cheboygan, a convenient 8 miles away, the perfect distance for my Woodstock 50K training plan, which is also getting me ready to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon in October.

I haven’t been wearing my hydration vest because it bothers my shoulder, so I filled up the small water bottles on my luggage, I mean, hydration belt. I had my Bib Rave visor, plenty of fuel and temperatures in the low 70s.

The trail itself is crushed, packed limestone, which tried to get into my running shoes a few times. It was a good reminder to follow my friend Brandess’ advice and finally get gaiters.

Having run 26.2 miles last weekend, 16 sounded just perfect, so I headed out with a spring in my step, steady 2:1 run/walk intervals and a back-up battery in case I needed to listen to music or a book on Audible.

Everything went great. I saw deer. I drank my Gatorade and fueled every four miles. And I took lots of pictures. I should note that there is basically nothing between Aloha State Park and Cheboygan other than some fields, farm houses, an RV park and a few homes. There is nowhere to stop, get water or pee (unless you’re a dude and then the world is your toilet).

Eventually, I got close to Cheboygan and its awesome trailhead, which features a covered pavilion, bathrooms, air pump and bike tools, and a water fountain.

north eastern state trail review. It's great for running.

The North Eastern State Trail has great signage, including this one near Cheboygan.

I took advantage of the facilities and filled up my now-empty water bottles with water before turning around and heading back.

A picture of the North Eastern State Trail near Cheobygan, which has bathrooms and a water fountain. Used it during my run.

The North Eastern State Trail trailhead near Cheboygan.

By now, I’m two hours into my run but still feeling good.

Until I didn’t. I resorted to listening to a book on Audible. No big deal.

I took an extra packet of fuel. Still fine.

Then. I. Slowed. Down. Even. More.

Did I mention that there’s also no shade on the North Eastern State Trail?

I ran out of water at about mile 14. And out of juice at about mile 15, so I walked the last mile right up to the small store by the campground where I bought a regular Pepsi and it was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. (Good thing I had stocked my luggage so I had cash!)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my run on the NEST. It’s well-maintained and incredibly convenient.

I even ran on it again this morning and plan a few more runs yet this week. Which again validated my always well-stocked luggage (seeing a theme here?) when I had to pull out bug repellent wipes and then Wet Ones to clean my hands afterward. Them skeeters were trying to eat me!

a picture of my bug repellent wipes and wet ones to clean my hands

So glad I stocked my hydration pack!

Have you ever run on the North Eastern State Trail? Would you recommend it? Any tips to share? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

 

 

 

 

 

We’d just started our third 6.5-mile loop during the Loopty Loop Ultra in Rochester Hills when I checked in with el husbando letting him know we were having fun and doing great. Just two more trail loops to get our goal 26.2 miles with plenty of time to spare on our eight-hour clock.

Next thing I knew, I was splayed out on the ground, the wind knocked out of me, a scraped left knee and chin, and bruised left hand. My friends Shannon and Vicki waited until I could breathe and talk. It took me a few minutes to get myself upright and moving. I was dizzy and nauseous.

And just as quickly as it happened, I felt better and we got back on the trail. We eventually reached an aid station where a volunteer got me cold water and paper towels to clean my knee, and some antibiotic ointment, just in case.

That loop was by far our slowest. I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t feeling well, so we walked and regrouped. By the time we made it back to the start, I was feeling like myself and was able to run most of the last loop with Shannon and her husband, Corey, only walking a handful of times. I am certain that it was by far our fastest loop, but my watch died and I haven’t had the energy to ask Shannon to look at her watch’s stats.

Unlike the Old Farts marathon, the signs at Loopty Loop tried to uplift us, not taunt us.

Before the fall, the morning was uneventful. My friends Michelle, Vicki, Melissa and I met at 4:30 to make the hour-and-a-half-long drive. I made the last-minute decision to join them at dinner a few nights before, after they, ahem, convinced me that we could get the marathon distance on our ultra-marathon training plan done and get a medal.

I was a little nervous about registering for the race that morning, but registration was super organized and easy. The volunteer had me fill out a form, took my check and gave me a bib, bandanna and small towel. All in under 5 minutes.

We had plenty of time to go to the bathroom (they also had portable toilets), get our gear together, take a few pictures and line up at the start line. The race organizer made a few announcements (keep the pink flags on your right) and we were off.

We all started out together at a 2-minute run, 1-minute walk pace. About halfway through the second loop, we broke up into a couple of groups, which is pretty typical for us.

At one point during that rough third loop, we heard what sounded like ice-cream-truck music. I thought I was hallucinating. Once we reached the top of a hill, we were greeted by a volunteer handing out popsicles!

Despite taking a digger face-first into the dirt, this was definitely a great race. The course was relatively non-technical with some hills and lots of tree roots, but with plenty of shade. It was well-marked and the volunteers were all helpful and friendly.

Vicki and I walked most of that third loop. I’m grateful she didn’t kill me and leave me on the side of the trail.

The aid stations were generous with chips, watermelon, cheese sandwiches, Swedish fish, quesadillas, hot dogs, gummy bears, fuel and other treats. They had both Gatorade and water, too.

The race page describes it as having 6.3-mile loops. Had we returned from our last loop before eight hours, we could have run an extra 1-mile loop to get an official marathon distance.

As it was, our watches all said each loop was 6.6 miles, and several watches showed we covered our goal of 26.2 miles. This particular race gives out medals for the 4-, 8- and 12-hour time limits.

Race shirts were attractive, but the women’s sizes ran very, very small. Because I registered at the last minute, I didn’t get a shirt, but they also took $10 off my registration. We were offered plastic sunglasses and 26.2-mile stickers with our medals.

As a bonus, we also got to eat some really good square pizza and cake, and sit for a few minutes before cleaning up and getting in the car to head home. We were all tired, but glad we had made the trip.

We all met our goals for the day.

Now, we just have a 16-mile run next weekend, and 24- and 13-mile runs the two weeks after that. Then, taper.

There was talk of not doing the Run Woodstock 50K again next year because training takes so much darn time. I have to admit that yesterday’s race made me glad that we’ve been putting in the miles. It was proof of important the summer training is — both mentally and physically.

As always, everything wasn’t all rainbows and kittens. I came home to disgusting feet covered in dirt, a big blister under my big toe, sore muscles and a knee with road rash.

But it was all worth the pain and discomfort. I got to spend quality time with good friends, enjoy a gorgeous, sunny day and I even got a medal.


Have you ever taken a bad fall during a race? What’s your favorite race medal? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

We had heard the stories beforehand: The time when Shannon almost died. The steep hills. The shoe-sucking mud pit.

But nothing prepared us for just how hard it would be to get through one of two loops for the Old Farts Running Club‘s The Mummy Trail Marathon and Half in Lowell, Mich. It kicked our butts!

With a bum knee bugging me for the past couple of weeks, I signed up for the full marathon on race day, thinking that I would DNF (did not finish) halfway if I had to. I really wanted the gear, which was pretty awesome and included a zip-up jacket, neon-yellow running T-shirt and a towel. All items had either the mummy logo or the name of the race.

Race organization

I arrived at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start. Registration was super quick and organized.

There were stacks of jackets, T-shirts and sweatshirts to riffle through, but each runner got to pick exactly what they wanted. There were stacks of even more clothes after the race and each runner got to pick another item which now included stacks of sweat pants, track pants and shorts.

The gear was stacked on a picnic table, but we all took home a really nice jacket or sweatshirt and there were plenty of sizes and styles to choose from.

There are flush toilets in a building right by the start line and the race is small enough that the line was short.

Speaking of the start line, the race director gave clear instructions, we all lined up and we started right on time.

The trails were very clearly marked with small flags, spray-painted arrows and homemade signs that both encouraged and taunted us.

One of the many taunting signs along the trail.

The race organizers also have some sort of sick love for Chuck Norris who managed to make us feel unworthy every time we saw his face.

Hold me.

Water stations were tidy with plenty of cups and big trash cans. The station at around mile 8 had three of the Old Farts whose names grace some of the toughest spots along the course. They lulled us into a false sense of security by giving us sliced watermelon, cookies and Coke.

Don’t let these smiling faces fool you. The men were friendly but the portions of the race named after them were brutal.

Difficulty

It quickly became apparent that if we were going to do two loops and finish with 26.2 miles, we were going to have to reserve some energy, so we did a lot of walking. Looking back, that was one of our biggest mistakes. One mile had hills so steep, it took us 45 minutes.

How steep, you ask?

We had to crawl on our hands and knees a few times before reaching ropes that helped us climb, but that also made us feel like we would fall backward and plunge to our deaths.

But because climbing up steep hills wasn’t hard enough, this one had huge rocks.

Rocks? Sure, because the hills weren’t steep enough on their own.

And the trees. Oh, the trees. Trees blocked the trail so many times that even when we were running, we quickly had to stop to go over — or duck under — downed trees. At least two of us banged up our knees and got nice cuts and bruises. Never say I didn’t bleed for my running!

We crossed a few streams and slid down a few extra-steep spots on our bums.

 

We were grateful for the ropes, but wanted to lie down and cry whenever we spotted them because we knew what they portended.

No happy ending

We survived the toughest trail race I’ve ever seen. Even the Two Hearted Trail Half, which I considered relatively technical, and the Run Woodstock 50K were easier than today’s course.

Toward the end of the first look, the course gets a lot less technical, so my friends and I discussed going back out to do a second loop. My knee was holding up pretty well, but we were all plum tired. And we must have looked it because one of the race organizers (who happens to be a coach) basically told us we were done.

And we were perfectly OK with that. He even gave us half-marathon finisher medals and told us we did great. So we technically didn’t DNF and it felt like we earned those darn medals.

Lessons learned

There is no way I could do the full marathon at Old Farts. Well, maybe at some point. This was definitely not my year.

Would I sign up for the half? In a heartbeat. And I would run a lot more than I did today, knowing that we “only” had to do 13.1 miles (or more like 13.5 by my watch), making it a shorter trip.

I also was very glad that I had my friends’ support. I can’t imagine going through all of that by myself. There were many times when we encouraged each other, helped each other face our fears and pushed each other to get to the finish line.

The chicos both finished the full, but the chicas and I did one loop instead. That we’re all smiling after the race is a testament to our friendship.

In the end, it wasn’t the race I had signed up for, but I wouldn’t trade the experience — or my crew — for anything.

What’s the toughest race you’ve ever done? Would you consider our change of plans a DNF? Have you ever DNF’d? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)

 

I’ve pictured myself running on a beach, my steps straight, smooth and dry. The reality? Not so much.

But that, chicos y chicas, was the only downside to what was otherwise a fun, well-organized race on Grand Island, north of Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Put on by Great Lakes Endurance, Grand Island is host to a 50K plus full and half marathons through mostly packed sand or dirt trails with Lake Superior vistas, and even a peak at the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore.

Well-worth convincing la familia to come up to the U.P. for a week in July, the race has been on my radar for a couple of years. This Puerto Rican was drawn by the promise of riding a ferry across water to run on an island.

Registration was easily done online with clear instructions and regular email communication as we got closer to race day. There was a lot of information, for example, on packet pickup, race day etiquette (zero trash) and transportation.

Packet pickup

Packet pickup was held at the Munising Holiday Inn, on the west side of Munising. There was plenty of parking, a nice welcome sign, and enough people working that registration was very quick. Hours were from 3-9 p.m.

Bibs were chipped; each race had its own color; and plenty of safety pins were provided.

Grand Island Trail Half race review

Holiday Inn welcomes Grand Island runners.

My two boys and I took advantage of the timeline to take a Pictured Rocks boat tour for about two-and-a-half hours. These rock formations are a must-see if you’re making the trip for this race.

Part of the Pictured Rocks tour before the Grand Island Half Marathon packet pickup.

After our adventure and packet pickup, we picked up pizzas at the aptly named Pictured Rocks Pizza also on the main drag in town, this time on the east side. The place was packed but offered outside and indoor seating, a friendly staff and delicious pizzas and bread sticks. We may have dug in immediately upon arriving back at our Jeep. Don’t judge.

Transportation to the island

Race morning also ran very smoothly. I parked at Munising High School where a shuttle quickly took us bleary eyed runners to the ferry. We didn’t have to wait for either the bus or the small boat (there were about 30 of us) and they had ferries running the route fairly often. There were no portable toilets at the high school, but the ferry dock had a couple of easily accessible pit toilets.

Upon arriving at Grand Island, we got to wait for an hour-and-a-half, spending at least 30 minutes in line to use the toilets. The ultra crowd was already gone by the time we arrived; marathoners lined up about an hour before us half-marathoners.

Grand Island Trail Half race review

Grand Island race welcome banner.

Instructions were shared by bullhorn several times, including what color flag to follow and where (blue, to the right of the trail for the half).

And we’re off

I’m estimating about 250 half marathoners, if not 300, set off right at 8 a.m. Like most trail races, the pack was orderly and friendly.

Even us back-of-the-packers got a few cheers as we crossed the timing matts.

The first few miles were wooded, packed sand or dirt. I wouldn’t call it terribly technical, but a bit hilly.

Grand Island Trail Half race review

Grand Island Trail Half Marathon had lots of scenery.

And then, the beach.

Chariots of Fire music

Somewhere around mile 4, we were directed to the Lake Superior shoreline. I tried to avoid getting my shoes wet. Don’t. It’s impossible.

Grand Island Trail Half Marathon race review

Grand Island Trail Half Marathon’s most beautiful and hardest portion.

The sand is angled so that the dry stuff was uneven and hard to run on. One woman managed to go to the very top of the dry sand, but she walked the whole way and she looked like she was struggling.

The rest of us sucked it up and ran on the water where the sand was packed and a bit easier. Even so, I found that mile to be the hardest of the whole race by far. The view was breathtaking, with crystal-clear water and blue skies, and a portion of the Pictured Rocks in the background.

As soon as we were done with the beach portion, a couple of runners switched their socks at a conveniently placed bench. I figured everyone’s socks would get soaked immediately anyway and didn’t think much of it.

Were I to do this race again, I would take a moment to take the sand out of my shoes and switch socks. I had to stop later anyway because the sand had bunched up under my arch and felt like a stone.

Why we all signed up for this particular race

The rest of the race was also beautiful. Around mile seven, I started to see some of the ultra and full-marathon runners heading toward the finish line.

I stuck with my 4:1 run/walk intervals, so I took a lot of photos. The terrain was relatively smooth, with some rocks and a tree root here or there. Mosquitoes were out in full force, so make sure to use bug spray and to bring some with you (I bought the wipes and was glad to have them).

Two aid stations were well staffed and offered water and Honey Stinger for fuel. I didn’t stop, so I’m not sure what else they had nor how efficient they were at filling up the required water bottles or hydration system bladders (remember: no trash).

Finish line

There were friends and family members waiting at the finish line and were kind enough to cheer people as we came in. A race volunteer immediately handed me a receipt with my time and placement, then directed me to get my medal. Like the Two Hearted Trail Half Marathon medal, it’s made of wood and hung with yarn.

A happy chica after finishing the Grand Island Trail Half Marathon.

Runners who placed at the top of their age group got gorgeous, colorful glass medallions.

A bunch of folks spent some time by the dock, swimming or at least getting some of the grime off in the lake. The after-race treats were delicious, especially raspberry and oatmeal bars that were to die for. There were also bananas, cherry juice and some other energy bars. The race description said there would be watermelon, but they ran out.

Final thoughts

I would definitely do this friendly, fun race. Like any good destination race, we took advantage of the timing and spent the week sightseeing around the U.P. Hope to bring some friends with me next time!

What’s your favorite destination race? What makes for a good trail race? How do you feel about running on sand? (You may have to click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)